As the Christian rest is to be obtained by faith, we should beware of unbelief lest we lose it, as the Hebrews did theirs, 1. The reason why they were not brought into the rest promised to them, 2. The rest promised to the Hebrews was a type of that promised to Christians, 3-10. Into this rest we should earnestly labour to enter, 11. A description of the word of God, 12,13. Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest, 15. Through him we have confidence to come to God, 16.
Notes on Chapter 4
Let us therefore fear
Seeing the Israelites lost the rest of Canaan, through obstinacy and unbelief, let us be afraid lest we come short of the heavenly rest, through the same cause.
Should seem to come short of it.
Lest any of us should actually come short of it; i.e. miss it. See the note on the verb δοκειν, to seem, Luke 8:18. What the apostle had said before, relative to the rest, might be considered as an allegory; here he explains and applies that allegory, showing that Canaan was a type of the grand privileges of the Gospel of Christ, and of the glorious eternity to which they lead.
The verb υστερειν is applied here metaphorically; it is an allusion, of which there are many in this epistle, to the races in the Grecian games: he that came short was he who was any distance, no matter how small, behind the winner. Will it avail any of us how near we get to heaven, if the door be shut before we arrive? How dreadful the thought, to have only missed being eternally saved! To run well, and yet to permit the devil, the world, or the flesh, to hinder in the few last steps! Reader, watch and be sober.
For unto us was the Gospel preached
καιγαρεσμεν ευηγγελισμενοι. For we also have received good tidings as well as they. They had a gracious promise of entering into an earthly rest; we have a gracious promise of entering into a heavenly rest. God gave them every requisite advantage; he has done the same to us. Moses and the elders spoke the word of God plainly and forcibly to them: Christ and his apostles have done the same to us. They might have persevered; so may we: they disbelieved, disobeyed, and fell: and so may we.
But the word preached did not profit them
αλλουκωφελησενο λογοςτηςακοηςεκεινους. But the word of hearing did not profit them. The word and promise to which the apostle most probably refers is that in Deuteronomy 1:20,21: Ye are come unto to the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto to us. Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee: fear not. Many exhortations they had to the following effect: Arise, that we may go up against them; for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good: and are ye still? Be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land; for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth; Judges 18:9,10. But instead of attending to the word of the Lord by Moses, the whole congregation murmured against him and Aaron, and said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt; Numbers 14:2,4. But they were dastardly through all their generations. They spoke evil of the pleasant land, and did not give credence to his word. Their minds had been debased by their Egyptian bondage, and they scarcely ever arose to a state of mental nobility.
Not being mixed with faith in them that heard
There are several various readings in this verse, and some of them important. The principal are on the word συγκεκραμενος, mixed; which in the common text refers to ολογος, the word mixed; but, in ABCD and several others, it is συγκεκραμενους, referring to, and agreeing with, εκεινους, and may be thus translated: The word of hearing did not profit them, they not being mixed with those who heard it by faith. That is, they were not of the same spirit with Joshua and Caleb. There are other variations, but of less importance; but the common text seems best.
The word συγκεκραμενος, mixed, is peculiarly expressive; it is a metaphor taken from the nutrition of the human body by mixing the aliment taken into the stomach with the saliva and gastric juice, in consequence of which it is concocted, digested, reduced into chyle, which, absorbed by the lacteal vessels, and thrown into the blood, becomes the means of increasing and supporting the body, all the solids and fluids being thus generated; so that on this process, properly performed, depend (under God) strength, health, and life itself. Should the most nutritive aliment be received into the stomach, if not mixed with the above juices, it would be rather the means of death than of life; or, in the words of the apostle, it would not profit, because not thus mixed. Faith in the word preached, in reference to that God who sent it, is the grand means of its becoming the power of God to the salvation of the soul. It is not likely that he who does not credit a threatening, when he comes to hear it, will be deterred by it from repeating the sin against which it is levelled; nor can he derive comfort from a promise who does not believe it as a pledge of God's veracity and goodness. Faith, therefore, must be mixed with all that we hear, in order to make the word of God effectual to our salvation.
This very use of the word, and its explanation, we may find in Maximus Tyrius, in his description of health, Dissert. x., page 101. "Health," says he, it is a certain disposition υγρωνκαι ξηρωνκαιψυχρωνκαιθερμωνδυναμεωνηυποτεχνηςσυγκραθεισων καλωςηυποφυσεωςαπμοσθεισωντεξνικως, which consists in a proper mixture together of the wet and the dry, the cold and the hot, either by an artificial process, or by the skilful economy of nature."
For we which have believed do enter into rest
The great spiritual blessings, the forerunners of eternal glory, which were all typified by that earthly rest or felicity promised to the ancient Israelites, we Christians do, by believing in Christ Jesus, actually possess. We have peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost; are saved from the guilt and power of sin; and thus enjoy an inward rest.
But this is a rest differing from the seventh day's rest, or Sabbath, which was the original type of Canaan, the blessings of the Gospel, and eternal glory; seeing God said, concerning the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, I have sworn in my wrath that they shall not enter into my rest, notwithstanding the works of creation were finished, and the seventh day's rest was instituted from the foundation of the world; consequently the Israelites had entered into that rest before the oath was sworn. See Macknight.
We who believe, οιπιστευσαντες, is omitted by Chrysostom, and some few MSS. And instead of εισερχομεθαγαρ, for we do enter, AC, several others, with the Vulgate and Coptic, read εισερχωμεθα ουν, therefore let us enter; and thus it answers to φωβηθωμεν ουν, therefore let us fear, Hebrews 4:1; but this reading cannot well stand unless οιπιστευσαντες be omitted, which is acknowledged to be genuine by every MS. and version of note and importance. The meaning appears to be this: We Jews, who have believed in Christ, do actually possess that rest-state of happiness in God, produced by peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost-which was typified by the happiness and comfort to be enjoyed by the believing Hebrews, in the possession of the promised land. See before.
From the foundation of the world.
The foundation of the world, καταβοληκοσμου, means the completion of the work of creation in six days. In those days was the world, i.e. the whole system of mundane things, begun and perfected; and this appears to be the sense of the expression in this place.
For he spake in a certain place
This certain place or somewhere, που, is probably Genesis 2:2; and refers to the completion of the work of creation, and the setting apart the seventh day as a day of rest for man, and a type of everlasting felicity. See the notes on "Ge 2:1", and see here "Heb 2:6".
And in this place again
In the ninety-fifth Psalm, already quoted, Psalms 95:3,4. This was a second rest which the Lord promised to the believing, obedient seed of Abraham; and as it was spoken of in the days of David, when the Jews actually possessed this long promised Canaan, therefore it is evident that that was not the rest which God intended, as the next verse shows.
It remaineth that some must enter therein
Why our translators put in the word must here I cannot even conjecture. I hope it was not to serve a system, as some have since used it: "Some must go to heaven, for so is the doctrine of the decree; and there must be certain persons infallibly brought thither as a reward to Christ for his sufferings; and in this the will of man and free agency can have no part," even all this was true, yet it does not exist either positively or by implication in the text. The words επειουναπολειπεταιτινας εισελθεινειςαυτην, literally translated, are as follows: Seeing then it remaineth for some to enter into it; or, Whereas therefore it remaineth that some enter into it, which is Dr. Owen's translation, and they to whom it was first preached (οιπροτερον ευαγγελισθεντες, they to whom the promise was given; they who first received the good tidings; i.e., the Israelites, to whom was given the promise of entering into the rest of Canaan) did not enter in because of their unbelief; and the promise still continued to be repeated even in the days of David; therefore, some other rest must be intended.
He limiteth a certain day
The term day signifies not only time in general, but also present time, and a particular space. Day here seems to have the same meaning as rest in some other parts of this verse. The day or time of rest relative to the ancient Jews being over and past, and a long time having elapsed between God's displeasure shown to the disobedient Jews in the wilderness and the days of David, and the true rest not having been enjoyed, God in his mercy has instituted another day-has given another dispensation of mercy and goodness by Christ Jesus; and now it may be said, as formerly, To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. God speaks now as he spoke before; his voice is in the Gospel as it was in the law. Believe, love, obey, and ye shall enter into this rest.
For if Jesus had given them rest
It is truly surprising that our translators should have rendered the ιησους of the text Jesus, and not Joshua, who is most clearly intended. They must have known that the Yehoshua of the Hebrew, which we write Joshua, is everywhere rendered ιησους, Jesus, by the Septuagint; and it is their reading which the apostle follows. It is true the Septuagint generally write ιησουςναυη, or υιοςναυη, Jesus Nave, or Jesus, son of Nave, for it is thus they translate Yehoshua ben Nun, Joshua the son of Nun; and this is sufficient to distinguish it from Jesus, son of David. But as Joshua, the captain general of Israel, is above intended, the word should have been written Joshua, and not Jesus. One MS., merely to prevent the wrong application of the name, has ιησουςοτου ναυη, Jesus the son of Nave. Theodoret has the same in his comment, and one Syriac version has it in the text. It is Joshua in Coverdale's Testament, 1535; in Tindal's 1548; in that edited by Edmund Becke, 1549; in Richard Cardmarden's, Rouen, 1565; several modern translators, Wesley, Macknight, Wakefield, read Joshua, as does our own in the margin. What a pity it had not been in the text, as all the smaller Bibles have no marginal readings, and many simple people are bewildered with the expression.
The apostle shows that, although Joshua did bring the children of Israel into the promised land, yet this could not be the intended rest, because long after this time the Holy Spirit, by David, speaks of this rest; the apostle, therefore, concludes,
There, remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
It was not, 1. The rest of the Sabbath; it was not, 2. The rest in the promised land, for the psalmist wrote long after the days of Joshua; therefore there is another rest, a state of blessedness, for the people of God; and this is the Gospel, the blessings it procures and communicates, and the eternal glory which it prepares for, and has promised to, genuine believers.
There are two words in this chapter which we indifferently translate rest, καταπαυσις and σαββατισμος. the first signifying a cessation from labour, so that the weary body is rested and refreshed; the second meaning, not only a rest from labour, but a religious rest; sabbatismus, a rest of a sacred kind, of which both soul and body partake. This is true, whether we understand the rest as referring to Gospel blessings, or to eternal felicity, or to both.
For he that is entered into his rest
The man who has believed in Christ Jesus has entered into his rest; the state of happiness which he has provided, and which is the forerunner of eternal glory.
Hath ceased from his own works
No longer depends on the observance of Mosaic rites and ceremonies for his justification and final happiness. He rests from all these works of the law as fully as God has rested from his works of creation.
Those who restrain the word rest to the signification of eternal glory, say, that ceasing from our own works relates to the sufferings, tribulations, afflictions, as in Revelation 14:13. I understand it as including both.
In speaking of the Sabbath, as typifying a state of blessedness in the other world, the apostle follows the opinions of the Jews of his own and after times. The phrase shabbath illaah, veshabbath tethaah, the sabbath above, and the sabbath below, is common among the Jewish writers; and they think that where the plural number is used, as in Leviticus 19:30: Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, that the lower and higher sabbaths are intended, and that the one is prefigured by the other. See many examples in Schoettgen.
Let us labour therefore
The word σπουδασωμεν implies every exertion of body and mind which can be made in reference to the subject. Rebus aliis omissis, hoc agamus; All things else omitted, this one thing let us do. We receive grace, improve grace, retain grace, that we may obtain eternal glory.
Lest any man fall
Lest he fall off from the grace of God, from the Gospel and its blessings, and perish everlastingly. This is the meaning of the apostle, who never supposed that a man might not make final shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, as long as he was in a state of probation.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful
Commentators are greatly divided concerning the meaning of the phrase 'ολογοςτοςθεου, the word of God; some supposing the whole of Divine revelation to be intended; others, the doctrine of the Gospel faithfully preached; others, the mind of God or the Divine intellect; and others, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is thus denominated in John 1:1, ; Revelation 19:13; the only places in which he is thus incontestably characterized in the New Testament. The disputed text, 1 John 5:7, I leave at present out of the question. In the introduction to this epistle I have produced sufficient evidence to make it very probable that St. Paul was the author of this epistle. In this sentiment the most eminent scholars and critics are now agreed. That Jesus Christ, the eternal, uncreated WORD, is not meant here, is more than probable from this consideration, that St. Paul, in no part of his thirteen acknowledged epistles, ever thus denominates our blessed Lord; nor is he thus denominated by any other of the New Testament writers except St. John. Dr. Owen has endeavoured to prove the contrary, but I believe to no man's conviction who was able to examine and judge of the subject. He has not been able to find more than two texts which even appeared to look his way. The first is, Luke 1:2: Us, which-were eye witnesses, and ministers τουλογου, of the word; where it is evident the whole of our Lord's ministry is intended. The second is, Acts 20:32: I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace; where nothing but the gracious doctrine of salvation by faith, the influence of the Divine Spirit, legitimate mode of construction with which I am acquainted, by which the words in either place can be personally applied to our Lord. That the phrase was applied to denominate the second subsistence in the glorious Trinity, by Philo and the rabbinical writers, I have already proved in my notes on John 1., where such observations are alone applicable.
Calmet, who had read all that either the ancients or moderns have said on this subject, and who does not think that Jesus Christ is here intended, speaks thus: "None of the properties mentioned here can be denied to the Son of God, the eternal Word; he sees all things, knows all things, penetrates all things, and can do all things. He is the ruler of the heart, and can turn it where he pleases. He enlightens the soul, and calls it gently and efficaciously, when and how he wills. Finally, he punishes in the most exemplary manner the insults offered to his Father and himself by infidels, unbelievers, and the wicked in general. But it does not appear that the Divine Logos is here intended, 1. Because St. Paul does not use that term to express the Son of God. 2. Because the conjunction γαρ, for, shows that this verse is an inference drawn from the preceding, where the subject in question is concerning the eternal rest, and the means by which it is to be obtained. It is therefore more natural to explain the term of the word, order, and will of God, for the Hebrews represent the revelation of God as an active being, living, all-powerful, illumined, executing vengeance, discerning and penetrating all things. Thus Wisd. 16:26: 'Thy children, O Lord, know that it is not the growing of fruits that nourisheth man, but that it is thy word that preserveth them that put their trust in thee.' See Deuteronomy 8:3. That is, the sacred Scriptures point out and appoint all the means of life. Again, speaking of the Hebrews who were bitten with the fiery serpents, the same writer says, Wisd. 16:12: 'For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that restored them to health, but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things;' i.e. which describes and prescribes the means of healing. And it is very likely that the purpose of God, sending the destroying angel to slay the firstborn in Egypt is intended by the same expression, Wisd. 18:15,16: 'Thine almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and, standing up, filled all things with death.' This however may be applied to the eternal Logos, or uncreated Word.
"And this mode of speech is exactly conformable to that of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 55:10,11, where to the word of God, spoken by his prophets, the same kind of powers are attributed as those mentioned here by the apostle: For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my WORD BE that GOETH FORTH OUT OF MY MOUTH: it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. The centurion seems to speak a similar language, Luke 7:7: But say in a word, (αλλαειπελογω, speak to thy word,) and my servant shall be healed." This is the sum of what this very able commentator says on the subject.
In Dr. Dodd's collections we find the following:-
"The word of God, which promises to the faithful, an entrance into God's rest in David's time, and now to us, is not a thing which died or was forgotten as soon as it was uttered, but it continues one and the same to all generations; it is ζων, quick or living. Isaiah says: The word of our God shall stand for ever; Isaiah 40:8. Compare ; 51:6;; 55:11; 1Esdras 4:38;; John 3:34; ; 1 Peter 1:23. And powerful, ενργης, efficacious, active; sufficient, if it be not actually hindered, to produce its effects; effectual, Philemon 1:6. See 2 Corinthians 10:4; ; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. And sharper than any two-edged sword; τομωτεροςυπερ, more cutting than. The word of God penetrates deeper into a man than any sword; it enters into the soul and spirit, into all our sensations, passions, appetites, nay, to our very thoughts; and sits as judge of the most secret intentions, contrivances, and sentiments of the heart. Phocylides has an expression very similar to our author, where he says, of reason, 'that it is a weapon which penetrates deeper into a man than a sword.' See also Isaiah 40:4; ; Ephesians 6:17; ; Revelation 1:16;; 2:16.
"Piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.-When the soul is thus distinguished from the spirit, by the former is meant that inferior faculty by which we think of and desire what concerns our present being and welfare. By spirit is meant a superior power by which we prefer future things to present, by which we are directed to pursue truth and right above all things, and even to despise what is agreeable to our present state, if it stand in competition with, or is prejudicial to, our future happiness. See 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Some have thought that by the expression before us is implied that the word of God is able to bring death, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira; for, say they, if the soul and spirit, or the joints and marrow are separated one from another, it is impossible that life can remain. But perhaps the meaning of the latter clause may rather be: 'It can divide the joints and divide the marrow; i.e. enter irresistibly into the soul, and produce some sentiment which perhaps it would not willingly have received; and sometimes discover and punish secret, as well as open wickedness.' Mr. Pierce observes that our author has been evidently arguing from a tremendous judgment of God upon the ancient Israelites, the ancestors of those to whom this epistle is directed; and in this verse, to press upon them that care and diligence he had been recommending, he sets before them the efficacy and virtue of the word of God, connecting this verse with the former by a for in the beginning of it; and therefore it is natural to suppose that what he says of the word of God may have a relation to somewhat remarkable in that sore punishment of which he had been speaking, particularly to the destruction of the people by lightning, or fire from heaven. See Leviticus 10:1-5; ; Numbers 11:1-3;; 16:35; ; Psalms 78:21. All the expressions in this view will receive an additional force, for nothing is more quick and living, more powerful and irresistible, sharp and piercing, than lightning. If this idea be admitted, the meaning of the last clause in this verse will be, 'That the word of God is a judge, to censure and punish the evil thoughts and intents of the heart.' And this brings the matter home to the exhortation with which our author began, Hebrews 3:12,13; for under whatever disguise they might conceal themselves, yet, from such tremendous judgments as God executed upon their fathers, they might learn to judge as Moses did, Numbers 32:23: If ye will not do so, ye have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out." See Hammond, Whitby, Sykes, and Pierce.
Mr. Wesley's note on this verse is expressed with his usual precision and accuracy:-
"For the word of God-preached, Hebrews 4:2, and armed with threatenings, Hebrews 4:3, is living and powerful-attended with the power of the living God, and conveying either life or death to the hearers; sharper than any two-edged sword-penetrating the heart more than this does the body; piercing quite through, and laying open, the soul and spirit, joints and marrow-the inmost recesses of the mind, which the apostle beautifully and strongly expresses by this heap of figurative words; and is a discerner, not only of the thoughts, but also of the intentions."
The law, and the word of God in general, is repeatedly compared to a two-edged sword among the Jewish writers, chereb shetey piphiyoth, the sword with the two mouths. By this sword the man himself lives, and by it he destroys his enemies. This is implied in its two edges. See also Schoettgen.
Is a discerner of the thoughts
καικριτικοςενθυμησεωνκαι ευνοιωνκαρδιας. Is a critic of the propensities and suggestions of the heart. How many have felt this property of God's word where it has been faithfully preached! How often has it happened that a man has seen the whole of his own character, and some of the most private transactions of his life, held up as it were to public view by the preacher; and yet the parties absolutely unknown to each other! Some, thus exhibited, have even supposed that their neighbours must have privately informed the preacher of their character and conduct; but it was the word of God, which, by the direction and energy of the Divine Spirit, thus searched them out, was a critical examiner of the propensities and suggestions of their hearts, and had pursued them through all their public haunts and private ways. Every genuine minister of the Gospel has witnessed such effects as these under his ministry in repeated instances.
But while this effect of the word or true doctrine of God is acknowledged, let it not be supposed that it, of itself can produce such effects. The word of God is compared to a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, Jeremiah 23:29; but will a hammer break a stone unless it is applied by the skill and strength of some powerful agent? It is here compared to a two-edged sword; but will a sword cut or pierce to the dividing of joints and marrow, or separation of soul and spirit, unless some hand push and direct it? Surely, no. Nor can even the words and doctrine of God produce any effect but as directed by the experienced teacher, and applied by the Spirit of God. It is an instrument the most apt for the accomplishing of its work; but it will do nothing, can do nothing, but as used by the heavenly workman. To this is the reference in the next verse.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest
God, from whom this word comes, and by whom it has all its efficacy, is infinitely wise. He well knew how to construct his word, so as to suit it to the state of all hearts; and he has given it that infinite fulness of meaning, so as to suit it to all cases. And so infinite is he in his knowledge, and so omnipresent is he, that the whole creation is constantly exposed to his view; nor is there a creature of the affections, mind, or imagination, that is not constantly under his eye. He marks every rising thought, every budding desire; and such as these are supposed to be the creatures to which the apostle particularly refers, and which are called, in the preceding verse, the propensities and suggestions of the heart.
But all things are naked and opened
πανταδεγυμνακαι τετραχηλισμενα. It has been supposed that the phraseology here is sacrificial, the apostle referring to the case, of slaying and preparing a victim to be offered to God. 1. It is slain; 2. It is flayed, so it is naked; 3. It is cut open, so that all the intestines are exposed to view; 4. It is carefully inspected by the priest, to see that all is sound before any part is offered to him who has prohibited all imperfect and diseased offerings; and, 5. It is divided exactly into two equal parts, by being split down the chine from the nose to the rump; and so exactly was this performed, that the spinal marrow was cloven down the centre, one half lying in the divided cavity of each side of the backbone. This is probably the metaphor in 2 Timothy 2:15, where see the note.
But there is reason to suspect that this is not the metaphor here. The verb τραχηλιζω, from which the apostle's τετραχηλισμενα comes, signifies to have the neck bent back so as to expose the face to full view, that every feature might be seen; and this was often done with criminals, in order that they might be the better recognized and ascertained. To this custom Pliny refers in the very elegant and important panegyric which he delivered on the Emperor Trajan, about A. D. 103, when the emperor had made him consul; where, speaking of the great attention which Trajan paid to the public morals, and the care he took to extirpate informers, Nihil tamen gratius, nihil saeculo dignius, quam quod contigit desuper intueri delatorum supina ora, retortasque cervices. Agnoscebamus et fruebamur, cum velut piaculares publicae sollicitudinis victimae, supra sanguinem noxiorum ad lenta supplicia gravioresque poenas ducerentur. Plin. Paneg., cap. 34. "There is nothing, however, in this age which affects us more pleasingly, nothing more deservedly, than to behold from above the supine faces and reverted necks of the informers. We thus knew them, and were gratified when, as expiatory victims of the public disquietude, they were led away to lingering punishments, and sufferings more terrible than even the blood of the guilty."
The term was also used to describe the action of wrestlers who, when they could, got their hand under the chin of their antagonists, and thus, by bending both the head and neck, could the more easily give them a fall; this stratagem is sometimes seen in ancient monuments. But some suppose that it refers to the custom of dragging them by the neck. Diogenes the philosopher, observing one who had been victor in the Olympic games often fixing his eyes upon a courtezan, said, in allusion to this custom: ιδεκριοναρειμανιονωςυποτουτυχοντοςκορασιου τραχηλιζεται. "See how this mighty champion (martial ram) is drawn by the neck by a common girl." See Stanley, page 305.
With whom we have to do.
προςονημινολογος. To whom we must give an account. He is our Judge, and is well qualified to be so, as all our hearts and actions are naked and open to him.
This is the true meaning of λογος in this place; and it is used in precisely the same meaning in Matthew 12:36;; 18:23; ; Luke 16:2. Romans 14:12: So then every one of us λογοςδωσει, shall give an account of himself to God. And Hebrews 13:17: They watch for your souls, ωςλογοναποδωσοντες, as those who must give account. We translate the words, With whom we have to do; of which, though the phraseology is obsolete, yet the meaning is nearly the same. To whom a worde to us, is the rendering of my old MS. and Wiclif. Of whom we speake, is the version of our other early translators.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest
It is contended, and very properly, that the particle ουν, which we translate seeing, as if what followed was an immediate inference from what the apostle had been speaking, should be translated now; for the apostle, though he had before mentioned Christ as the High Priest of our profession, Hebrews 3:1, and as the High Priest who made reconciliation for the sins of the people, Hebrews 2:17, does not attempt to prove this in any of the preceding chapters, but now enters upon that point, and discusses it at great length to the end of chap. 10.
After all, it is possible that this may be a resumption of the discourse from Hebrews 3:6; the rest of that chapter, and the preceding thirteen verses of this, being considered as a parenthesis. These parts left out, the discourse runs on with perfect connection. It is very likely that the words, here, are spoken to meet an objection of those Jews who wished the Christians of Palestine to apostatize: "You have no tabernacle-no temple-no high priest-no sacrifice for sin. Without these there can be no religion; return therefore to us, who have the perfect temple service appointed-by God." To these he answers: We have a High Priest who is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God; therefore let us hold fast our profession. See on Hebrews 3:1, to which this verse seems immediately to refer.
Three things the apostle professes to prove in this epistle:-
1. That Christ is greater than the angels. 2. That he is greater than Moses. 3. That he is greater than Aaron, and all high priests.
The two former arguments, with their applications and illustrations, he has already despatched; and now he enters on the third. See the preface to this epistle.
The apostle states, 1. That we have a high priest. 2. That this high priest is Jesus, the Son of God; not a son or descendant of Aaron, nor coming in that way, but in a more transcendent line.
3. Aaron and his successors could only pass into the holy of holies, and that once a year; but our High Priest has passed into the heavens, of which that was only the type. There is an allusion here to the high priest going into the holy of holies on the great day of atonement. 1. He left the congregation of the people. 2. He passed through the veil into the holy place, and was not seen even by the priests. 3. He entered through the second veil into the holy of holies, where was the symbol of the majesty of God. Jesus, our High Priest, 1. Left the people at large. 2. He left his disciples by ascending up through the visible heavens, the clouds, as a veil, screening him from their sight. 3. Having passed through these veils, he went immediately to be our Intercessor: thus he passed ουρανους, the visible or ethereal heavens, into the presence of the Divine Majesty; through the heavens, διεληλυθοτατουςουρανους, and the empyreum, or heaven of heavens.
For we have not a high priest
To the objection, "Your High Priest, if entered into the heavens, can have no participation with you, and no sympathy for you, because out of the reach of human feelings and infirmities," he answers: ουγαρ εχομεναπχιερεαμηδυναμενονσυμπαθησαιταιςασθενειαιςημων. We have not a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness. Though he be the Son of God, as to his human nature, and equal in his Divine nature with God; yet, having partaken of human nature, and having submitted to all its trials and distresses, and being in all points tempted like as we are, without feeling or consenting to sin; he is able to succour them that are tempted. See Hebrews 2:18, and the note there.
The words καταπαντακαθομοιοτητα might be translated, in all points according to the likeness, i.e. as far as his human nature could bear affinity to ours; for, though he had a perfect human body and human soul, yet that body was perfectly tempered; it was free from all morbid action, and consequently from all irregular movements. His mind, or human soul, being free from all sin, being every way perfect, could feel no irregular temper, nothing that was inconsistent with infinite purity. In all these respects he was different from us; and cannot, as man, sympathize with us in any feelings of this kind: but, as God, he has provided support for the body under all its trials and infirmities, and for the soul he has provided an atonement and purifying sacrifice; so that he cleanses the heart from all unrighteousness, and fills the soul with his Holy Spirit, and makes it his own temple and continual habitation. He took our flesh and blood, a human body and a human soul, and lived a human life. Here was the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:5; and by thus assuming human nature, he was completely qualified to make an atonement for the sins of the world.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace
The allusion to the high priest, and his office on the day of atonement, is here kept up. The approach mentioned here is to the kapporeth, ιλαστηριον, the propitiatory or mercy-seat. This was the covering of the ark of the testimony or covenant, at each end of which was a cherub, and between them the shechinah, or symbol of the Divine Majesty, which appeared to, and conversed with, the high priest. Here the apostle shows the great superiority of the privileges of the new testament above those of the old; for there the high priest only, and he with fear and trembling, was permitted to approach; and that not without the blood of the victim; and if in any thing he transgressed, he might expect to be struck with death. The throne of grace in heaven answers to this propitiatory, but to this ALL may approach who feel their need of salvation; and they may approach μετα παρρησιας, with freedom, confidence, liberty of speech, in opposition to the fear and trembling of the Jewish high priest. Here, nothing is to be feared, provided the heart be right with God, truly sincere, and trusting alone in the sacrificial blood.
That we may obtain mercy
ιναλαβωμενελεον. That we may take mercy-that we may receive the pardon of all our sins; there is mercy for the taking. As Jesus Christ tasted death for every man, so every man may go to that propitiatory, and take the mercy that is suited to his degree of guilt.
And find grace
Mercy refers to the pardon of sin, and being brought into the favour of God. Grace is that by which the soul is supported after it has received this mercy, and by which it is purified from all unrighteousness, and upheld in all trials and difficulties, and enabled to prove faithful unto death.
To help in time of need.
ειςευκαιρονβοηθειαν. For a seasonable support; that is, support when necessary, and as necessary, and in due proportion to the necessity. The word βονθεια is properly rendered assistance, help, or support; but it is an assistance in consequence of the earnest cry of the person in distress, for the word signifies to run at the cry, θεινεις βοην, or επιβοηνθειν. So, even at the throne of grace, or great propitiatory, no help can be expected where there is no cry, and where there is no cry there is no felt necessity; for he that feels he is perishing will cry aloud for help, and to such a cry the compassionate High Priest will run; and the time of need is the time in which God will show mercy; nor will he ever delay it when it is necessary. We are not to cry to-day to be helped to-morrow, or at some indefinite time, or at the hour of death. We are to call for mercy and grace when we need them; and we are to expect to receive them when we call. This is a part of our liberty or boldness; we come up to the throne, and we call aloud for mercy, and God hears and dispenses the blessing we need.
That this exhortation of the apostle may not be lost on us, let us consider:-
1. That there is a throne of grace, i.e. a propitiatory, the place where God and man are to meet.
2. That this propitiatory or mercy-seat is sprinkled with the atoning blood of that Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.
3. That we must come up, προσερχωμεθα, to this throne; and this implies faith in the efficacy of the sacrifice.
4. That we must call aloud on God for his mercy, if we expect him to run to our assistance.
5. That we must feel our spiritual necessities, in order to our calling with fervency and earnestness.
6. That calling thus we shall infallibly get what we want; for in Christ Jesus, as a sacrificial offering, God is ever well pleased; and he is also well pleased with all who take refuge in the atonement which he has made.
7. That thus coming, feeling, and calling, we may have the utmost confidence; for we have boldness, liberty of access, freedom of speech; may plead with our Maker without fear; and expect all that heaven has to bestow; because Jesus, who died, sitteth upon the throne! Hallelujah! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
8. All these are reasons why we should persevere.